Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Pope Francis

Saint Ignatius of Loyola by Portrait by Peter Paul Rubens

On the day after his election, Pope Francis famously returned to the hotel where he had been staying and paid his bill.  But earlier that day, he repaid another debt, by kneeling in prayer before an icon of Mary and the child Jesus at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, and then by praying at the basilica’s chapel where Saint Ignatius of Loyola celebrated his first Mass in 1538.

In praying at that chapel, the first pope from the Society of Jesus honored his spiritual father, the founder of his religious order.  Today on the feast day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, we too can prayerfully honor and learn from that great saint.

Ignatius, the son of a Basque nobleman, had dreamed of being a soldier but during a 1521 battle, his leg was broken by a cannonball.  During his recuperation, he read books on the life of Jesus and of the saints, and that changed his life.  Pope Francis in his new encyclical Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”) noted, “…The light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus… The light of faith in Jesus also illumines the path of all those who seek God.”

Finding God in all things became central to the spirituality of Saint Ignatius and of the religious order he founded.  Saint Ignatius’s daily examen and his Spiritual Exercises would transform the hearts of countless Jesuits and lay people over the centuries.  The order’s defense of the faith played a key role in the Counter-Reformation, and the Jesuits’ missionary zeal helped bring the Catholic faith to people around the world.

Pope Francis recently met with students from Jesuit schools and told them, “What gave me the strength to become a Jesuit is the sense of being a missionary.  To go out, to take part in the missions, to proclaim Jesus Christ. This is precisely our spirituality, to go out and spread the Gospel.”

One hundred years after Ignatius and six other men first took vows, Jesuit Father Andrew White landed with the first settlers in Maryland in 1634 and celebrated the first Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies.  In 1789, Georgetown University was founded in Washington by the Jesuits as this nation’s first Catholic university.  Today, the Jesuits in our Archdiocese of Washington staff Holy Trinity Parish in Washington and Saint Ignatius Parish in Chapel Point, Maryland. In addition to Georgetown University, the Jesuits sponsor Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland.; Gonzaga College High School in Washington; and the Washington Jesuit Academy, a middle school for boys.

In our archdiocese, we benefit from the legacy of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and of the Society of Jesus every day.  Around the world, more than 17,000 Jesuits – the world’s largest religious order of men – follow in the footsteps and continue the work of this holy man.

Like Pope Francis, we too can offer a prayer of thanks for Saint Ignatius, who found Jesus and shared that gift with the world.